Specialty Court Programs utilize mental health and drug addiction treatment, vocational training, faith-based support and more to help individuals resume productive roles in society.
In Louisiana, of those individuals who commit a felony offense and do not complete a Specialty Court Program, approximately 50% of them later commit another felony offense. In contrast, for those offenders who complete one of the Specialty Court Programs in the 22nd Judicial District, the recidivism rate is only 8 to 12%.
“There is a huge distinction to be made between someone who has made a “one-off” mistake and someone who has become a criminal. We owe it to the citizens of St. Tammany and Washington Parishes to assist those who have made mistakes and help them get back on the path to being productive citizens – either as the person they once were before they suffered from an addiction, or the person they never had the chance to be,” said Interim D.A. Collin Sims.
The 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office balances its prosecutions with a robust use of Specialty Courts they have proven to be much more effective than the traditional correction and supervision protocols, not to mention that they also save taxpayers money.
It costs Louisiana taxpayers approximately $25,000 to house an inmate for one year. The average cost for a client of the Specialty Courts is $5,000. The programs utilize mental health and addiction treatment, vocational training, faith-based support, and more to help individuals resume productive roles in society. All programs are post-adjudication, and a referral must be made by the Judge at sentencing. The programs are voluntary on the part of the offender. To graduate, candidates must fulfill the requirements of the program. If a requirement is not completed, sanctions are commonly imposed on a graduated basis. All treatment resources are exhausted before a candidate is dismissed from the program.
Insert quote from Shannon Hattier, Specialty Court Coordinator (Ideas: Talk about the incredible turnaround stories you get to see due to the success of Special Courts, or about the dedication to seeing people’s lives restored through appropriate intervention)
In the 22nd JDC, there are five Specialty Courts that specifically address felony offenders – more than in any other jurisdiction in Louisiana.
1. Veterans Court: This court-supervised program utilizes intensive treatment and supervision for criminal offenders who are veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States. Program requirements include court attendance, treatment, alcohol and drug testing, case management services, individual and group counseling, and recovery support group meetings.
Current Presiding Judge: Richard Swartz
2. Drug Court: This specialty court was established to address the significant number of non-violent substance-abusing participants being placed on probation only to be revoked due to their untreated and continued use of drugs. This specialty court is designed to address the participant’s need for treatment, support and monitoring in a highly structured system. The program includes a treatment plan, frequent drug testing, case management, supervision by the Drug Court judge(s), the Probation and Parole Department and other community resources, e.g. peer support services.
Current Presiding Judges: Ellen Creel (Washington Parish) and Vincent Lobello (St. Tammany Parish)
3. Re-entry Court: This court helps repeat offenders re-enter their community after completing their prison sentence. It is a program for offenders who must serve some time incarcerated. The Louisiana State Penitentiary (i.e., “Angola”) and the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (i.e., “St. Gabriel”) are the two prisons where offenders participate in the program. While in prison they receive education, job and life skills. Upon release, they report to the Re-Entry program at the courthouse. The program focuses on assisting participants in securing gainful employment. It not only introduces them to potential employers, it also helps them find adequate housing, and when needed, mental health and substance abuse treatment. The program can last up to five years.
Current Presiding Judge: William Burris
4. Sobriety Court: This is a specialty court for non-violent offenders who have two or more DWI convictions and meet the criteria for alcohol abuse/dependency. Sobriety Court is an intensive program dedicated to the intervention, accountability and recovery of DWI offenders. Program requirements include treatment, alcohol ETG and drug testing, case management services, individual and group counseling and 12-step recovery meetings.
Current Presiding Judge: Vincent Lobello
5. Mental Health/Behavioral Health Court: This specialty court was established to address those judicially involved individuals who suffer with mental illness and a co-occurring drug or alcohol dependency. Its participants have a wide range of criminal charges and specialty court intervention is complicated by their mental illness. The goal of this specialty court is to identify mental illness involved and provide resources and dedicated treatment to reduce the likelihood of the client repeating the criminal behavior.
Current Presiding Judge: John Keller
Additional Specialty Courts (non-felony crimes) include Family Preservation Court and Juvenile Court.
The Specialty Courts of the 22nd Judicial District Court (JDC) are funded through the Louisiana Supreme Court and the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, in addition to federal grants obtained through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and The Bureau of Justice Assistance.
While each particular specialty court is managed by one judge, all ten (10) criminal court judges in the 22nd JDC have the authority to refer an offender to a specialty court, based on the recommendation of the District Attorney’s Office. This feature of our program is somewhat unique as most other jurisdictions do not allow ALL their judges to make such referrals.
Each program is run by the presiding judge in the division that includes a Specialty Court. Unlike many other jurisdictions across the country, our presiding judges receive referrals from all of the other judges of the 22nd JDC; therefore, all of the judges are very supportive and vested in these programs.